We had so much fun doing our Countdown to Kickoff series last season that we decided to do it again. In case you’re new to the series, we’ll do a roster preview as we count down the days until the Chicago Bears September 7th season opener against the Buffalo Bills.
Our Countdown to Kickoff series brings us to the #70 and a pair of Bears vying for a roster spot, offensive lineman Michael Ola and defensive end Jamil Merrell. You know that you have an uphill climb when you’re designated #70 (Offense) and #70 (Defense), so let’s take a look at these youngsters trying to crack the final 53-man roster.
The Bears picked up Michael Ola after he was cut by the Dolphins. Bears coaches have some familiarity with Ola, who played for Trestman in the CFL. Ola spent a couple of seasons in Canada after going undrafted out of Hampton. It’s been an interesting ride to end up in Chicago:
Ola’s path to the NFL has been circuitous. He was with the Hartford Colonials in the UFL before the team folded. Next was a tryout with the Virginia Destroyers, another team in the UFL, before spending training camp with the Arena League’s Orlando Predators. They released him in time for him to hook on with the Jacksonville Sharks, for whom he started. Then, he found his way to Canada where Trestman and his staff took a liking to him.
Ola, who was undrafted out of Hampton in 2011, worked out for the Bears, Redskins, Chargers and Dolphins after last CFL season. The Bears tried to sign him to a future/reserve contract but they were not offering him a signing bonus and the Dolphins gave him $5,000 up front. That might not seem like much but the minimum salary in the CFL last season was $45,000.
He tried out for a few NFL teams but opted to go with the Dolphins, who offered him a $5000 signing bonus. After a shakeup in the Dolphins front office following the whole Richie Incognito scandal, he was cut by the Dolphins before seeing any OTA’s with Miami. The Bears signed him to get into the mix for a backup offensive lineman. He’ll face some steep competition to make the team with the starters pretty well set and some key backups identified, so watch for #70 on offensive side when camp opens in a few weeks.
Ola could be going up against another #70, defensive end Jamil Merrell. The Bears signed Merrell as an undrafted free agent out of Rutgers last week after jockeying around some roster spots following OTA’s and mandatory minicamp. The 6’2″, 252 pound Merrell started 18 games over four seasons for the Scarlet Knights, but missed significant time in 2013 with a leg injury. Merrell seems a little undersized for DE, so he would appear to be in the pass rushing specialist mold that Cornelius Washington or *ahem* linebacker Shea McClellin was supposed to fill last season. Merrell is a super longshot to crach the Bears roster, but you never know.
Be on the lookout for our Countdown to Kickoff series as we continue to work our way to the season opener on September 7th. We’re 71 days from kickoff. Are you ready???
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